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A Rail Trail in Watsonville? The RTC holds the key on Dec. 5

Posted: Friday, Nov 29th, 2013




At their Dec. 5 meeting, the Santa Cruz Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) will distribute $5.3 million in grant funds to local agencies to construct sections of the Santa Cruz County Rail Trail. Some segments being considered for funding are located in Watsonville, and I felt it was important to let our community know about this important funding decision.

With such a significant portion of the county’s population living in the Watsonville area, I trust that the Commissioners on the Regional Transportation Commission will distribute the trail funds in an equitable manner.

Watsonville residents have already embraced trails for transportation and recreation as can be witnessed on our city trail system. Now is the time to connect Watsonville to the emerging Rail Trail. Funding this proposed project will be the first and most important link. I highly encourage our constituents to attend the meeting and send letters of support for this project.

The proposed trail. The city of Watsonville and its partners, the Santa Cruz County Land Trust and Watsonville Wetlands Watch, submitted an application for just over $1 million for the Rail Trail-Lee Road Project. The proposed trail segment will allow pedestrians, bicyclists and persons using wheelchairs to travel from the western city limit at Lee Road approximately 4,000 feet east along the railroad right-of-way. The new segment would connect to the existing Watsonville Slough Trail that is the newest portion of the city’s seven-mile Wetland Trail System.

The Santa Cruz County Land Trust has committed up to $300,000 toward the Rail Trail – Lee Road project. This would serve as the required local match. The proposed trail segment is included in the city’s 2012 Trails Master Plan and Urban Greening Plan and thus is part of a well-defined and comprehensive vision for Watsonville’s future.

The Rail Trail-Lee Road project would be the first phase of a series of trail segments that would make connections to four key elements of the city and surrounding community. The Rail Trail-Lee Road Project would:



Create a link between Watsonville and the Santa Cruz County Rail Trail/ Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail



The proposed Rail Trail-Lee Road project would be the connecting segment between the Santa Cruz County Rail Trail and the city of Watsonville’s existing seven-mile Wetland Trail System. Watsonville’s trail system meanders along the freshwater wetlands that flow through city neighborhoods and, as delineated in the city’s 2012 Pedestrian and Bicycle Trails Master Plan, is slated for long-term expansion to 30 miles of trails in urban areas and along the urban edges of Watsonville. The proposed Rail Trail-Lee Road segment would provide the initial connection between the city’s and the Regional Transportation Commission’s major trail projects, including the significant connection to Monterey County.



Create a link to a planned trail to the Santa Cruz County Land Trust Watsonville Slough Farm property



The proposed Rail Trail-Lee Road trail segment would be the first portion of a future trail connection between Watsonville’s Wetland Trail System and the Santa Cruz County Land Trust’s Watsonville Slough Farm.



Provide a portion of a future trail to Pajaro Valley High School



Each school day, hundreds of students walk along high-traffic routes to reach Pajaro Valley High School. The proposed Rail Trail-Lee Road project would serve as the beginning portion of a future trail link to Pajaro Valley High School and will, once completed, result in greatly increased safety for students who walk or bicycle to school.



Provide for a trail connection to major neighborhoods, shopping centers and transportation corridors



The proposed Rail Trail-Lee Road project would include an at-grade crossing of Ohlone Parkway. A planned addition of 700 feet of sidewalk on Ohlone Parkway would connect the new Rail Trail-Lee Road trail to an existing pedestrian and bicycle corridor that passes by 700 residential units including the Las Brisas, Seaview Ranch, Sunset Cove and Bay Breeze Subdivisions, Stone Creek Apartments, as well as Landmark School and the Overlook Shopping Center before connecting with Main Street. The Rail Trail-Lee Road trail would also create a direct pedestrian and bicycle link to the Manabe-Ow business park which is located on the edge of town between a major residential area and an industrial zone.

The additional pedestrian facilities will reduce driving, traffic congestion, fuel consumption and green house gas emissions. Transportation equity will be provided for people experiencing poverty and others with limited or no access to vehicles. The proposed addition to the city’s trail network in the slough area will increase the economic benefit that is derived from bird watchers who travel to Watsonville by providing safe access to the Lee Road birding “hot spot.”

Finally, we thank Congressman Sam Farr for his efforts in Washington to secure these funds for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network. The 32-mile Santa Cruz County Rail Trail is our county’s portion of the 50-mile Monterey Bay Sanctuary Trail that will eventually connect Monterey to Santa Cruz.

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Karina Cervantez is the mayor of Watsonville.

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